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Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord

First Day and I’m Still Okay

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

It was no secret that I approached the month of Ramadan with a large amount of fear and dread (along with shame). Now that Ramadan will be in the summer (in the Northern Hemisphere) for the next six to ten years, I am scared about the very long, very hot days and fasting. Normally, I like summer…when I’m fasting during it, however, it is a little tough. Thus, I was scared.

Well, it is now Ramadan 2, and I’m still here. I made it! Yeah, it was a little hard to wait until 8:11 PM to eat and drink. But, after all was said and done, it was not that bad. Now, I did have the option of breaking my fast yesterday as I was traveling. But, I decided (with much goading and encouragement from my wife) to fast anyway.

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Yeah, I could have really used a cup of coffee in the airport; yeah, it was hard smelling those french fries that someone had bought and not be able to eat them; yeah, it was sad to not get to drink a can of diet soda on the plane. But, nothing happened. I was just fine. And I hope and pray that the Lord has blessed me tremendously for my fast.

Indeed, there are still long days of fasting ahead. Indeed, the heat of August will likely be oppressive. But, this is my time to show the Lord (and the world at large) that I love Him so much that I am willing to not eat and drink throughout the long days of August. No, He doesn’t need my fasts; He needs nothing at all.

But, I am still happy to do it anyway – even if I may not have a smile on my face at 6 PM with more than 2 hours left to eat.

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Kareem Salama: (Muslim) Rock At Its Finest

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Most Merciful

“Hesham’s iPod” is an occasional post about what’s hot, what’s spiritual, and what’s buzzworthy in Muslim music, and about the nature of Muslim artists.

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Every once in a while, a popular musical group comes out with a heartfelt song full of wonderful, inspiring messages. One such example is “Where is the Love?” by the Black Eyed Peas. When I hear songs like this, I think to myself: Why don’t more musicians sing more songs like this? Well, folks, we have such a musician: American (Muslim) country singer Kareem Salama.

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I have been a fan of Kareem Salama ever since he burst on the scene a few years ago. His first album, Generous Peace, was great, with many wonderful, heartfelt tracks. My absolute favorite on that album is “Lady Mary,” which is about the Virgin Mary. It almost always makes me cry. Salama’s newest album, “City of Lights,” is even better.

This album is intended to be much more “mainstream” than “country,” so to speak, and it is. That is especially true for the first track, “Makes Me Crazy.” But what strikes me most about this album is the varied subject matter of his songs, and how each of them is truly uplifting and spiritually fulfilling. Take this line from the track “Heavenly Dreams”:

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Some of us do believe/God gave us heavenly dreams

Those two lines of verse are so profound that I can write so much about it (which I plan to do). The love songs on his album – “We Could Be Friends,” “Beat In My Heart,” and others – are so pure and meaningful. Salama proves that one can sing about love and not have to go after our base nature. That is one of his strongest suits.

Yet, hands down, the runaway hit on this album is the rock re-make of “Baby, I’m a Soldier.” He originally released the song on his first album and that version was very nice. But this version is AWESOME.

The song is about war and the experience of soldiers. It tells the amazing story of two soldiers on either side of a conflict, and the amazing thing that happens when they meet each other in battle. It is such an uplifting story, and everyone – especially our elected leaders – should listen to this song and learn from its many lessons (I will write about this one, too).

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The bridge of this song is fantastic: he keeps the listener on edge, endlessly wondering about what thing “shocked” both soldiers. While waiting for the answer, the listener is treated with the best bit of electric guitar I have ever heard. It moves me so much, and I have listened to this specific part of the song over and over again without tiring. I was never really a rock/country fan, but Kareem Salama has made me a convert. Moreover, he is blazing the trail of (Muslim) rock/country, and I am forever grateful for it.

If you haven’t already noticed, I placed the word “Muslim” in parenthesis because, the fact that he is Muslim is wholly parenthetical. If you listen to the album without knowing the name of the singer, you would think it is an average rock/country album. The fact that Kareem is Muslim is irrelevant. I actually performed this “experiment,” if you will, with my neighbor, and he was shocked when I told him the singer is Muslim.

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But that is the whole point: one can sing “Muslim rock” without once saying “Allah,” or “Islam,” or “Muhammad.” What I love most about Kareem Salama’s work is that he is not a singer who says “Allah” in a cowboy hat. He infuses his music with Islamic themes and spirituality, and the listener does not know it. And that is also the whole point: Islamic themes are universal and in common with the themes of all faiths and traditions, and Kareem weaves them in masterfully.

I will say again what I said with Muslim hip-hop group Native Deen: Go get this album. You will not regret it.

 

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The Rap Album That Made Me Cry

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

I am reviving my “Hesham’s iPod” series, which is an occasional about what’s hot, what’s spiritual, and what’s buzzworthy in Muslim music, and about the nature of Muslim artists. 

I have been listening to rap music ever since my teenage years. Indeed, I do admit that some of it was not very pious or religious, and for that, I ask for God’s grace and forgiveness. And Let me insert here that the rap music of then was much better than that of today. I miss the “good old days” of hip hop, quite honestly. But, still, there has never been a rap album that has made me cry.

Until now.

Native Deen, the premier Muslim hip-hop band, just released their new album “The Remedy.” By far, this is their best album yet. I do like and enjoy listening to all of their songs, but on the previous two albums, “Deen You Know” and “Not Afraid to Stand Alone,” there were some songs that were nice, but really didn’t move me. The tears, however, stream frequently as I listened to this album.

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It is clear – as it should be – that the music of Native Deen has evolved. On the first album, much of the songs talked about Islam, and the Prophets, and such, but the flavor of the songs were very much flat. It also seemed a little “adolescent.” It got better with “Not Afraid to Stand Alone,” with more than one inspiring and uplifting song, such as “Life’s Worth” and “Rain Song.” No track on that album, however, compared with “Zamilooni,” which featured South African Muslim singer Zain Bhikha. That song, about the Prophet’s love for his wife Khadjiah, was the best they had at that point.

That is, until they released “The Remedy.” As with every album, they always begin with a song singing God’s praises and thanks, and the song, “Bismillah” is hip, fresh, and makes you move. I am almost moved to tears by “Mercy to Mankind,” which reminds me of the kindness and compassion of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). “Packed At All,” which talks about preparing for Judgment Day, is quite inspirational as well.

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The tears really start, however, at “My Faith, My Voice.” This song talks about not allowing the Islam-bashers and Islamophobes direct the discourse about Islam and Muslims. The lyrics of the song speak for the millions of Muslims all over the world, who have to shudder every time a Muslim commits a crime:

There’s a lunatic, goes on a rampage/Using violence, and I’m outraged/This is senseless, and it’s gruesome/Please don’t let this be a Muslim

How many times have we Muslims all said that? But they always remind us that the discourse belongs to us Muslim, not the haters:

I know what they call us/They’ll try to blame all us/But I know how the Prophet lived/And I know what he taught us/This is my faith, my voice

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I can’t help but cry. It uplifts me and keeps me strong: no matter what they say about us, Islam is my faith, and my voice is what counts.

Once this song is through, the next is the title track of the album,”The Remedy.” I thought it would be a typical song about how Islam is the remedy to all of our problems, a sort of “Islam is the solution” mantra put to rap. How wrong I was.

The entire song is nothing but repetition of God’s names and the shahadah, or testimony of faith. And the rhythm of the song is so awesome, that you can’t help but bop your head. But, the sounds of their voices go straight to my heart and make me reach out to the Lord in humility and love. And the tears stream. I have listened to this track a bunch of times, and it is – far and away – the best of the whole album.

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This latest Native Deen album has a little of everything for everyone. There is a song about the Companion Bilal, the first Muezzin, or “caller to the prayer,” called “Ahad,” and it also made cry, reminding me of the strength and fortitude of that great companion, who was tortured for his conversion to Islam. Native Deen has also continued in the tradition of Muslim holiday songs with “Ramadan is Here,” and this will instantly become a classic. I will definitely play this one for my kids once Ramadan starts in a few weeks, God willing.

Another tear jerker is “I am Near,” a song with great rhythm and sound along with beautiful supplications to the Lord. The boys of Native Deen also constantly remind us of the poor and needy around the world with songs like “Hungry Ones,” and “Gaza,” which is a homage to the people of Palestine. I really can’t say enough about this album, and Native Deen has truly outdone itself, making an album that appeals both to Muslim children and youth, along with their parents. My daughters and I just finished listening to the album, and we all enjoyed doing so.

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Now, it is no secret that the primary audience of Native Deen is Muslims. Yet, that does not mean that this album is not good for people of all faiths. It is, at its core, a great, modern hip hop album, and one that is pure to boot. The beats and the rhythms are fantastic. But, this album also lets listeners in on the internal conversations of the American Muslim community. You want to know what Muslims are saying to each other? Don’t listen to the Islamophobes, who are – by and large – lying to your face. Listen to Native Deen.

Bottom line: Go out and buy this album. You will not regret it.

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Celebrating Her Birthday

As families gather all across our country to commemorate the anniversary of our declaration of Independence from the British Crown, I reflect over how important this day is to me as an American Muslim. More than just joining my fellow Americans in the celebration of the birth of his country; more than some time off to relax and enjoy fireworks shows with friends and family; more than just enjoying cookouts and picnics and (if I’m lucky) a round of golf. The independence of the American republic was one of the greatest things for me as a Muslim.

Let me get this out of the way: there have been many things our country has done of which I am not proud. Our foreign policy has – many times – been at odds with the upright principles upon which our country was founded. Our country has not been – and will never be – perfect. Nevertheless, this is still the best country on earth in which to live as a Muslim. I am still in love with our country as she celebrates another birthday and am so very grateful for her independence.

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In no other place on earth do I feel more at home as a Muslim. Here in America, I can worship God as I see fit. I am able to worship God freely, without fear of being put in jail for my religious beliefs. Here in America, I can be more of a Muslim than I can be in many – if not most – so-called “Muslim countries.”

Indeed, things are not perfect for Muslims in America. Over the last several years, more than a dozen states have introduced laws prohibiting the non-existent “threat” of Sharia law to our system of government. Some of these laws have seemed to even criminalize the very practice of Islam itself. Some Republican candidates for President seem at ease with singling out Muslims for “loyalty tests” before they join his Administration. Studies have shown a disturbing rise in Islamophobia all across our country.

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But this is not the true nature of America. These incidents, while un-becoming of our country, do not represent America any more than the actions of Muslim terrorists represent all Muslims. The true nature of America is present at the fireworks shows, where everyone comes together to watch the “bombs bursting in air” in the night; it is present at the 4th of July picnics and cookouts; it is present at the County Fairs and town festivals. And at each of those venues, American Muslims are – overwhelmingly – welcome and at home.

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Get Signed Copy of Noble Brother

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

I will be signing copies of my book, Noble Brother: The Story of the Prophet Muhammad in Poetry, at the Soundvision booth at the annual conference of the Islamic Society of North America, held in Chicago on July 2nd. Hope to see you there.

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Thank God They Were Caught

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Thank God they were caught. Two men – with extensive criminal backgrounds – were arrested on charges of plotting to attack a military processing center in Seattle, Washington. According to the complaint:

Both men are U.S. citizens and converts to Islam, according to the charges. Abdul-Latif is a felon who spent 2 ½ years in prison on robbery and assault charges. Mujahidh had been living in Los Angeles, but came to Seattle as the plan developed, according to the charges. He has no felony criminal history, although he was named in a civil domestic-violence protective order filed in King County in 2007 by his wife.

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The men are charged with conspiracy to murder U.S. officers, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction (a grenade) and other firearms-related counts. U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Alice Theiler ordered them held pending a detention hearing next Wednesday. The maximum penalty for the crimes is life in prison; however, the firearms-related counts carry 30-year mandatory minimum sentences.

There are a number of important points that must be made.

First, thank God they were caught. If what is alleged against them is actually true, it would have been a heinous crime, such as that in Fort Hood, Texas. This is not the way to change policy, and in no way does Islam sanction such methods. If you disagree with our nation’s foreign policy, then you work peacefully to change that policy – not kill and maim people. Period.

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Second, the men are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. While the charges are serious, we must let due process take its course. Third, it is important to point out that the actions of these men are an aberration, the actions of a criminal mind (if what is alleged against them is true). They are not representative of the Muslim community, or Islam, or Muslims in general. As the U.S. Attorney said:

These are the actions of individuals who adhere to a violent and extreme ideology and do not represent and should not reflect on the Muslim community as a whole. We hope there is no backlash here. That would not be fair or what we stand for.

Fourth, and most importantly, the plot was foiled by another Muslim. As reported in the complaint:

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The complaint details an escalating plot discovered by police on May 30 after Abdul-Latif approached another man who he believed shared a radical Islamic ideology.

The charges allege that Abdul-Latif had known the man for several years and believed he could help him obtain weapons he wanted to use to attack the U.S. military because of events in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

The man, however, went to Seattle police. The complaint does not identify the informant by name, but describes him as a five-time felon who was paid for his efforts.

True, the informant was not a model citizen. Nevertheless, this shows the fact that – rather than being complicit in terror plots, as Congressman Peter King (R-NY) alleges – the American Muslim community is an active participant in the fight against terror. Many plots, in fact, were foiled by the Muslim community itself.

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We love this country, and we are against anyone – Muslim or otherwise – who seeks to harm this country and her people. Thank God these men were caught, and if what is alleged against them is true, may they receive the judgment and justice they deserve.

May God protect our country and protect the Muslim community from barbaric criminals who would do something like this. Amen.

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Drive On, My Sisters!

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Perhaps inspired by the “Arab Spring,” women in Saudi Arabia are beginning to challenge the decades-old ban on their getting behind the wheel. According to the Associated Press:

A campaign to defy Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving opened Friday with reports of some female motorists getting behind the wheel amid calls for sustained challenges to the restrictions in the ultraconservative kingdom.

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It started after a 32-year-old woman, Manal al-Sharif, who was detained after posting a video of herself driving. She was only released when she reportedly pledged that she would not drive again.

It is about time. It baffles me as to how clerics can justify, based on Islam, that women should not be allowed to drive. They claim that having women driving may spread temptation because women will mix with men. But, this view is completely against the letter and spirit of Islam. There is nothing in Islam that says that women must remain at home and not participate in society at large, out of fear of temptation. If men and women practice Islam properly, there should be no problem at all when they interact in society.

The Prophet Muhammad’s own wife, Khadijah, was a very prominent businesswoman, and after he became Prophet, he did not mandate that Khadijah stay at home. Women were prominent members of society during the time of the Prophet, with some even fighting on the front lines alongside the Prophet (pbuh). His later wife, A’isha, even led an army during the civil war that ensued after the Prophet Muhammad’s death.

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This is the reality of Islam and the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad. This ban on women driving has nothing to do with Islam. The fact that clerics in Saudi Arabia use Islam to justify such a repressive restriction is an aberration. It is high time for our sisters in Saudi Arabia to challenge this ban, based on the principles of Islam itself.

Although I don’t want to see upheaval where people will get hurt, I am in support of more freedom for Saudi women, and all people everywhere. Drive on, my sisters! May God help you in your struggle, your jihad.

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Golf and Fatherhood: Like Oil and Water, Sometimes

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

I can always tell that Father’s Day is coming when the newspapers become suddenly full of ads for golf products: clubs, shoes, shirts pants. That’s because quite a few dads play golf–including yours truly. I discovered the game only about two years ago. In fact, I found God on a golf course. I also became hooked on the game. I try to play a few links at all the staff outings at the hospital where I work, and I also try to play with friends and family when I can.

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If I can watch golf tournaments on television, I do. I also talk golf all the time with friends and colleagues at the hospital. I even took some golf lessons offered by my village park district and found them enormously helpful. Don’t even ask me about the driving range. I try to hit at least one bucket of golf balls there at every opportunity afforded me. In fact, if I come home early and my notice that my wife and children aren’t home, I don’t even pull into the garage. I put my car in reverse and head to the driving range.

I have never felt this way about any sport before, and even though I am an absolutely terrible golfer (I’m usually in the running for “Highest Scorer Award”), I keep coming back for more. More golf, that is. And the more I come back for more golf, the more guilty I feel as a father.

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My job is very demanding on my time. I am at the hospital at 8 a.m. every morning at the latest, and sometimes I don’t get home until 8 or 9 p.m. Every other weekend I am on call for our physician’s group, which means that I have to see all of our patients already at the hospital and take any new patients that we are asked to see in consultation. Add to that the committee meetings at the various hospitals at which I am also on staff, medical conferences and the like, I have very little time to spend with my family.

For that reason, the moment I finish all my work, I consider myself to be on “family time.” I feel I should spend every moment when I’m not on the job with my three young daughters and my beautiful wife. In addition, my middle daughter plays baseball, so I try not to miss a game. These moments are very special to me, and I don’t want to be an absent father.

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Many Muslims believe that a man’s role is to be the provider and sustainer of the family. That mostly means financial support; a man’s job is to “bring home the beef brisket” (we can’t bring home bacon) for the rest of the family. I also believe that as a Muslim father, I need to be there physically. I need to be a presence in the lives of my wife and children. I also have a duty to raise my children as upright American Muslim citizens, because I don’t believe that’s merely “the woman’s job.” Parenting is a team effort, and, although I am not home as much as my wife, I still have a role to play in the rearing of my children. I believe that Islam demands no less of me.

But I can’t shake the golf bug; it’s in my system. My clubs are in the trunk of my car 24/7, 365 days a year. One day, I took my eldest daughter to the driving range with me. Right after my purchased second bucket of golf balls, my daughter said, “Dad, can we go home now?” I turned to her and grunted, “Soon, honey, soon.” I have even taken my 3-wood and my 7-iron to my middle daughter’s baseball game and have taken some practice swings while her team was practicing. If I could, I would book a permanent tee time every Sunday.

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But I can’t. I feel guilty playing golf on family time. On the occasions that I do play golf on Sunday, it is during the wee hours of the morning–at 6 a.m.–when my family is still sleeping. I play only nine instead of eighteen holes because eighteen holes of golf would take too much time away from the people I love. I also try to squeeze my driving range time into my commute home from work instead of after I get home. The only time I allow myself to play a full eighteen holes is at the hospital outings that I consider part of work time (thankfully, my wife feels the same way about it).

In fact, this is probably why I am still a terrible golfer. The game of golf requires a lot of time. A really good golfer needs to be at the practice range every day. He needs to have frequent lessons and to play at least once a week if not every day–after hitting about 200 golf balls at the range. I simply am not willing to sacrifice that much time away from my family in order to become the golfer I really want to be.

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But you know, I would never trade my family time for a round of golf. In 2006, my family and I took a trip to Egypt, and I had to come back two weeks earlier than my wife and daughters in order to go back to work (so I could pay for said trip). “Great,” I thought to myself, “I will have all the time in the world to play guiltless golf!” And play several rounds of guiltless golf I did. Yet I was miserable. I missed my family terribly, and I was filled with loneliness during those two weeks. The joy I felt when I saw my wife and kids on the warm Saturday afternoon when they returned was indescribable, and even though I could no longer play as much golf as I could when they were gone, my life felt all the more sweet knowing that my family was with me safe and sound.

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Such is the life of a Muslim father who also wants to be a golfer. I am often forced to choose between the two (fatherhood and golf, that is), and almost every time I choose to be a father. I have absolutely no regrets about my choice. Although I admit it–I’ll still be thinking about playing golf.

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Collective Blame Never Good

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

The radicalization of citizens in our prisons is a real potential threat. Protecting the country against this and other threats is very important. Violent extremism must be stopped wherever it may be. But, to blame it wholly on Islam and single out American Muslims does no one any good.

Yet, that is exactly what Congressman Peter King (R-NY) did during his recent hearing about the radicalization of Muslims in American prisons. To hear Congressman King, Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, talk about the issue, one would think the problem is rampant in American prisons. The truth, however, is quite different.

George Zornick, writing in the Nation, summarized the hearing well:

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The problem, however, is that there is no real problem. Bert Useem, a professor at Purdue University who was the lone panelist not sympathetic to King’s cause, noted that of the 1.6 million people currently incarcerated in the U.S. prison system, there have been only 12 terrorism cases with some evidence that the offender became radicalized in prison. “If prison was a major cause of jihadi radicalization, you’d expect to see more,” he told the committee.
King and his panelists had their own evidence. They didn’t offer any pesky statistics, but rather florid descriptions of terrorists who, while incarcerated, turned violent under the influence of prison Islam — or “prislam,” as it came to be known during the hearing.
But even this anecdotal evidence falls apart under closer inspection. For example, King raised the case of James Cromitie, who will be sentenced tomorrow for his role in planning attacks on an Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, NY and two synagogues in New York City.
According to King, Cromitie “was radicalized in a New York State prison.” He is “not alone,” King warned. But in fact, the government has made no claim that Cromitie nor any of his co-conspirators hatched their plot in prison, nor that their prison experience contributed to their crimes. Inmates and chaplains at the New York state prison where Cromitie was incarcerated said he did not take part in any of the Islamic prayer meetings.
Moreover, Cromitie’s lawyers have portrayed him as the victim of an altogether different kind of recruitment. They allege that a government informant paid Cromitie $250,000 to plan the terror attacks. When Cromitie expressed reluctance, the informant pressed on, according to court documents. “I told you…I can make $250,000, but you don’t want it, brother. What can I tell you?” he said.
King was equally dishonest when he invoked the case of Jose Padilla, who was convicted of trying to set off a radioactive bomb in the United States. King’s version of events, as described in his opening statement, is that Padilla “converted to Islam in a Florida jail,” and that “while on the inside, Padilla met a fellow inmate who led him to a radical mosque.”
In reality, the Broward County Sheriff said at the time there was no record of Padilla requesting to meet with an imam, attending Islamic classes, or requesting a name change while incarcerated there. A family friend told CNN that he converted to Islam after he married a Muslim woman in 1996 and moved to the Middle East.
King failed to prove statistically or even anecdotally that Islamic radicalization in prisons is a serious problem worthy of a high-profile Congressional hearing. And even if King were right, it would be an odd focus solely on that brand of recruitment and not also on the well-documented problem of white supremacist groups who also recruit and radicalize inmates to commit crimes, along with similar efforts by violent street gangs. Several Democrats made this point during the hearing, but were sharply dismissed by Republican colleagues. “The political correctness in this room is astounding,” scolded Rep. Dan Lungren.

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Just as with his last hearing about the radicalization of American Muslims, this hearing really did nothing but stoke fear and single out American Muslims. Congressman Michael Honda (D-CA), who actually lived in an internment camp during WWII, called out the negative effect of his hearing:

In one fell swoop of his discriminatory brush, King, in his apparent attempt to root out radicalization, marginalizes an entire American minority group, making enemies of them all. To add insult to injury, King has quipped (again, speciously) that America has too many mosques and that extremists run 80 percent of them. We can only hope that Congressman King does not completely undermine all the goodwill established across this country between Muslim Americans and law enforcement officials. You can be certain that few will want to work with King going forward.
Don’t get me wrong. I support the Homeland Security Committee examining “radicalization” in this country, and in our prisons, provided it is a comprehensive review, not a discriminatory one that targets only one subgroup of America. I support the committee examining “violent extremism” in this country, including an examination of militias and the 30,000-plus gun-related deaths occurring each year. I support a committee chair that is keen to keep our homeland secure.
This is not the case with King. These hearings do little to keep our country secure and do plenty to increase prejudice, discrimination and hate. I thought we learned a lesson or two from my internment camp experience in Colorado. I hope I am not proven wrong.

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I echo that hope, Mr. Honda.

Now, let me be clear: I am thankful for the Committee’s resolve to keep our country safe. And if there are American Muslims who are plotting terrorist attacks, they need to be found, stopped, and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

But, these are not reprsentative of the whole. They are a tiny, aberrant minority. And the facts show that there is no problem of radical Islam in American prisons. The incidents are just that: anectodal incidents. Singling out my community, however, like Congressman King did, did not help things at all. It will only hurt the cause of American unity, and that is truly sad, indeed.

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My Personal September 11

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Two years ago today, the unthinkable happened to my wife and me. I penned this four days after it occurred:

June 7, 2009 will forever be burned in my memory. June 7, 2009 will always cause me the deepest pain anyone can ever feel. June 7, 2009 will always be the darkest day on the calendar, even if the sun is warm, bright, and plentiful.

June 7, 2009 was the day my wife and I lost our daughter to lymphoma.

She was diagnosed with lymphoma back in January, and it was a shock to all of us. Yet, we were determined to beat this terrible disease with the same ferocity it attacked our beautiful little Angel. So we started the cycles of chemotherapy.

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It was a relatively short treatment protocol – six months – but it was quite intense. Our daughter has an underlying disorder, Ataxia-Telangiectasia, which renders her more sensitive to chemotherapy than normal children. Therefore, the protocol was modified in dose for kids with A-T.

But, intense the protocol was. With each cycle, there were complications. After the first cycle, she came back almost a day later with high fevers and low blood cell counts. She stayed a week in the hospital. But, she recovered.

Then came round two: same problem – complications, fevers, and low blood counts. But, she recovered. Rounds three and four and five were similarly difficult. Throughout the rounds, she would get nausea, fevers, diarrhea, and the like. She even had bloody, quite bloody, diarrhea, and it caused us and her much distress. But, she recovered.

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Furthermore, in the middle of all of this was repeated visits to the clinic by my wife and daughter. Whenever something would go wrong, we would call the doctors, and they would say, “Bring her in.” So, my wife would bring her in. That’s not to mention the multiple hospital stays.

Every time she would get chemo, she would stay in the hospital. In the beginning, my wife, Reem, would stay at the hospital with my daughter, and I would stay at home with my other two daughters. But, this became untenable, especially with my work schedule. So, my wife and I developed a system: she would stay during the day, and I would stay at night. When I had to work overnight, she would stay 48 hours in a row. Other times, I would not sleep at home for a week or longer. But, it was easier for me to stay with her at night at the hospital, especially if I have to take call for my pulmonary practice.

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But, every time she got chemo, she recovered. In fact, she survived the worst of the chemo rounds relatively intact.

Then came the last round: maintenance. And it was a piece of cake: only three days! That’s nothing compared to what she had been through in the previous four months. We expected to go in and out of the hospital with no problem at all.

Things, however, did not go as expected.

For some reason, this round was the absolute worst, and everything went wrong. The chemo levels refused to go down, unlike her previous rounds. The complications of the chemo – mouth sores, nausea, and diarrhea – were SO MUCH worse this time around. She even threw up blood on several occasions. And soon after the chemo finished, the fevers started…and they never stopped.

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They were relentless. No matter how much Tylenol they gave her, the fevers never went below 100 degrees. And with the fevers came the body aches, the fast breathing, and the fast heart rate. She really got sick, but she was always stable. Her oxygen levels would sometimes go down quite significantly, but she was still stable. Her blood pressure still stayed normal.

And there was the pain. She was in so much pain. She knew the name of the pain medicine, Dilaudid, by name. She asked for it every two hours on the dot.

She was like this for almost a week, and once she told me, “Baba, I can’t stand this.” My heart twinging with terrible pain, I told her, “It’s OK habeebee (my love), soon you will get better.”

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But, she did not get better.

On Friday June 5, she was still talking to me and my brother, who came to visit. She was still breathing fast, in terrible pain, had relentless fever, and had terrible diarrhea. But, she was still talking and responding. As she left late that evening, my wife expressed concern to me that our daughter was not well, but I reassured her that she would get better, that this was only a temporary rough patch.

Early on Saturday June 6, at 5 AM, however, something changed. She was much less responsive, even to me. And her breathing…her breathing was much more labored and she seemed to have more phlegm and junk in her lungs than before. It was not long before her blood pressure – heretofore the best thing about her vital signs – began to drop like a rock.

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They were giving her a lot of fluids to keep her BP high and her kidneys flushed, but it was not helping. And it also seemed that her kidneys were not working as well as they had been. Because the blood pressure was still low, they started a medicine to help to keep it up: dopamine. It is always a bad sign when this medicine and others like it is started. They even gave her blood and other blood products to try to increase her blood pressure. It did not work. To help with her breathing, they put her on a machine with a mask, and it seemed to work initially, but she later had to be placed on a ventilator.

As the evening approached, the doctor told my wife and me that it is quite likely she will need dialysis, which is an artificial kidney machine. Because they did not do it at the hospital in which she currently was being treated, she had to be transferred to a tertiary medical center. Even though my wife and I watched with horror as our daughter deteriorated all day, we still had hope that she would recover. Kids are very resilient, and they can pull through the most dire of illnesses. We had hope that she, despite all her challenges, was one of those kids who can pull through.

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My wife left to the other hospital before me, and when I made sure the paramedics were up to date with my daughter’s condition, I left for the other hospital myself. I was absolutely exhausted, and it was a miracle I did not crash on the way there. When I got there, my wife was already waiting downstairs in the lobby for me. Our daughter did not arrive until about an hour after I got there. When our daughter finally arrived, there was a team of about 10 people waiting to take care of her. They were absolutely wonderful, and they tirelessly worked on my daughter.

After my daughter was stabilized, my wife asked to see her. She could not bear the sight: Bayan was hooked up to so many tubes and IV lines; she had a breathing tube in her mouth connected to a ventilator helping her breathe; she was in a coma, induced by medications. It was a sight too horrible to bear, and she cried relentlessly. I tried to reassure her, once again, that this was only temporary. Once again, I tried to reassure Reem that everything will eventually be alright. It was late, so I insisted that she go home and get some much needed rest while I stayed at the hospital. I told her that I would call if anything happened. Truly, I did not think anything would happen, so I felt comfortable telling her to go home and sleep. In addition, only one parent could stay, so I wanted her to get some real rest after a terrible day.

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There was a chair, a most uncomfortable chair, in the back of the room behind my daughter’s hospital bed, and I collapsed into it. That was about 11 PM. I woke up at 1 AM, and the nurses and doctors were still valiantly working on our baby. I kept hearing words such as, “epinephrine,” and “vasopressin,” which are other medicines that help support blood pressure. I knew – as I am myself an ICU doctor – that this was not a good sign, but I put any thought that my daughter was at risk of dying out of my mind. I still had hope she would pull through.

I woke up at 6AM, and I spoke to the doctor, who did not leave the hospital, to get an update on the events overnight: she told me that her kidneys did work a little, but that was short lived, and she was really having a tough time keeping her blood pressure up. In addition, even though they did not give her any medicines to make her sleepy, she did not respond to them at all. I knew that this was a very bad sign. The doctor, however, did not give up hope, and tried to encourage me as much as possible. She told me that she had to put in another special IV line, and I signed the consent form.

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But I looked at my daughter, and I was horrified at what I saw: She was gasping for air, even though she was on the ventilator. Her feet were mottled and blue, meaning that the circulation was shutting down. Her fingers were blue. She was still burning up from fever. There was very little urine in the urine collection bag. I knew it was not good. For the first time, I realized that it was quite likely that my daughter is going to die. And a sinking feeling of dread slowly came over me.

I went to the washroom to brush my teeth and get dressed: I was stalling, because I knew that I had to call my wife, wake her up, and tell her the worst news she would ever hear from me: that our daughter was dying.

I picked up the phone and dialed her cell phone number. When she answered, I said to her:

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“You better come to the hospital.”

“Why? What does that mean?” she asked.

Barely able to speak, I said, “She is not doing well.”

As she was on her way, I lost it and openly sobbed. I rarely sob like that, but I could not help it: my baby was dying, and I knew it. I sat outside her hospital room waiting for my wife to show up. When she did, I waved to her so that she can see me. When she came up to me, she saw the tears in my eyes, and she knew all was not well. I told her what was going on, and then I broke down again in front of her.

As I cried into her arm and shoulder, I was apologizing. I have always tried to be strong for her; to be her rock under which she can feel sheltered and protected. But, I could not be strong for her on this day.

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The doctor came and spoke to both of us and told us what was happening. I asked her point blank, “Are we fighting a losing battle?” I knew we were, but I wanted to ask her the question anyway. She said that this was a fair question, but, again, she has seen kids pull through this. In the meantime, her oncologist came and saw my daughter and said the same thing as the intensive care doctor.

No more than ten minutes passed before they both came back to my wife and me and said, with a grim look on their faces, “We need to talk.” They led us to the “Quiet Room,” where we could talk alone, and they told us that her pupils were now “fixed and dilated.” This means that she has suffered brain death, and it was only a matter of time before her heart would stop. You might as well had shot Reem and me in the heart.

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At this point, they told us, we could either withdraw care or keep everything going but not escalate treatment any further. I looked at my wife and asked her what she thought we should do, and she deferred to me, her eyes blood-shot from crying. I did not want to withdraw care, fearing this would be too hard on my wife. So, we elected to keep everything the same and let God do what He wanted.

We went back to the room and sat next to our daughter – I holding her hand, and my wife holding her head and shoulders in her arms – spending our last few moments together on this earth. When the emotion became too much, I would openly sob, again apologizing to my wife for not being strong enough.

My daughter’s beautiful body was ravaged by this terrible disease – called gram negative sepsis – and it killed both Reem and me to see her suffer so much. I knew that her heart rate would slowly go down to zero and that would be it, and I was dreading having to watch that happen. Sure enough, the heart rate went down: 200, 190, 180, 170, 160, 150, 140. I wondered how long it would be. But, then suddenly, the heart rate went from 140 to zero.

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As that happened, I kissed her head and said, “Go in peace, my love.”

Both my wife and I knew that one day we would have to bury our child, because kids with A-T rarely survive their teens. We just never thought it would be so soon. In fact, we were planning trips to Wisconsin Dells, Disney World, and other places after her chemo was done. I promised her I would buy her gyros with “extra white sauce.” I promised her that we would swim together in the “lazy river.” But, unfortunately, none of this will ever come to pass. And it really, really hurts.

June 7, 2009 will forever be burned in my memory. June 7, 2009 became my personal 9/11. I played the movie of her death countless times in my head. I tried to mentally prepare myself for this day for years. But, it did not make it any easier. Not by a long shot. Nothing could prepare me for such a horrific loss. There is no greater pain, no greater suffering, no greater agony than to watch your child die in front of your eyes. I would not wish it on my worst enemy.

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